Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Sad Tale of the Smoke Alarm

Your friend the smoke alarm

I am not sure why but this image reminds me of Your Friend the Atom propaganda of my youth. I was skeptical of the atom being my friend too. And this morning I know the smoke alarm isn't my friend. I pulled some muscles or pinched some nerves in my back trying to kill my smoke alarm.

The National Fire Protection Association is in charge of smoke alarms. It was formed in 1896 by a group of insurance firms. I bet you thought they had your life in mind. NO. Just property loss. And they have their say in all building codes. They are the ones that mandate smoke alarms be installed. They may work well in standard housing but they are just plain stupid in vaulted ceilings and great rooms that go up two stories or more.  And so begins the tale of my smoke alarm in the studio.

My studio has a vaulted ceiling that at its peak is 15 feet above the floor. The building code says the smoke alarm has to be within a foot of the highest point of the ceiling. It has to be hard wired and with a battery backup. Models available do not recharge themselves so the battery has to be changed out yearly and supposedly tested by pushing the test button on a frequent basis. Not really possible with that tall a ceiling.

Now per code I really do not need a smoke alarm in the studio but my original plans had included the possibility of conversion to a bedroom and bedrooms do need smoke alarms. So the building inspector required one be put in per code.

Ever note that smoke alarms always start chirping with a low battery at dawn or earlier? My studio smokey is no different. And my dogs and cats hate that sound. Magique thinks if she climbs up on top of me in the bed she will be safe. She weighs 50 pounds. It was pouring rain so shutting her out of the house was not an option. Nor was retrieving the ladder  - one of those lil Gems that is anything but light and little and stored outside - to replace the battery. And as luck would have it there had to be the moving of a lot of art and art furniture before this could even be plotted.

I had wired my own studio with the help of my ex-husband who had an electrical contracting firm so I thought I knew which circuit we had put it on. I did remember Marc's advice that as soon as I had passed inspection to remove it. I began turning off every single circuit in the studio breaker box placed conveniently behind a painting. But the battery back up is so they smokey continues to produce ear splitting noise even with no power. But it was chirping because it needed a new battery so how long could it chirp?

It was still chirping when it got to an hour where I could reasonable deposit my dogs with my neighbor and escape to get breakfast out. And it was still chirping when we got back at one in the afternoon. Fur kids would not get further away than 6 inches from my feet which made moving paintings and furniture and ladders very difficult. My neighbor came over to help with the Lil Gem. They are two man ladders if used in the extended configuration. I got down the offending instrument from hell and removed the battery.

And it still chirped. My nerves were shot and I was all for stomping it to death. It brought back memories of Bride of Chuckie and every Halloween or Elm Street movie I had every watched. I briefly considered sending a treatment idea to a movie company of The Smoke Alarm that Killed Chicago. Note the 1896 fire regs are in part because of the great Chicago Fire.

Trust me the smoke alarm is not going back up. It is currently far out in the yard hidden under a five gallon bucket and as far as I know still chirping. I do plan to get a illegal in new construction battery smoke alarm that can be put where it can be reached and far enough away from the kitchen that it does not react to fish. Smoke alarms do not like fish.


  1. Too true - those darn things ALWAYS start chirping in the wee hours of the morning. Ours are hard-wired with a battery back-up - but still they chirp.

  2. It is important to keep the smoke alarm clean and free from dust so that the sensors can function properly.

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